Turkey’s growing rift with Iraq has exposed its role in the Middle East with Ankara protecting its stability from an Iranian-Iraqi “Shi’ite axis” with the withdrawal of the US military.
Turkish officials have been in a war of words with Baghdad since December when the Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, based on allegations that he ran death squads.
The row is seen by many analysts as symptomatic of Turkish anxiety that the country’s rising ‘soft power’ which is based on a vibrant economy and stability could be threatened by a “Shi’ite axis” which is embodied by Iran and Maliki’s Tehran backed Baghdad government.
However one region which has benefited from disagreements between the regional powers is the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Turkey has sought new allies to transform the region.
Despite strained relations with the Baghdad government, trade with Iraq is booming. Turkey has sold more than $8 billion of goods to Iraq last year, making Turkey’s second largest export market after Germany.
While some observers believe Turkey could stand to lose some state-funded projects in Iraq as relations between the two nations sour, it is seen as unlikely that trade relations between the two nations will suffer in the long term due to mutual interests.